Myth #7: Media produced for language learners counts as authentic materials (or, “The ‘First Semester of Spanish Love Song’ is the best video ever!”)
Most media in the world language classroom is a taco. It’s not just any taco. It’s a Taco Bell taco.
Taco Bell took the concept of a taco – corn tortilla, meat, toppings – and made it a mass-market hit in the American quest for more fast food. But they fried the tortilla. They added lettuce. They made it as American as the hot dog.
Never in my travels in Mexico or Latin America have I eaten a taco with a hard shell. My favorites are the tacos from the little taquerías on the border – the ones where you’re pretty sure you might get food poisoning but it’ll be worth it. With tacos de barbacoa in soft corn tortillas, piping hot, with cilantro and onion on the side, sliced lime to squeeze on top, and a little container of ranchero beans. (Hungry yet?)
What’s my point? Taco Bell tacos are food (well, most people think so anyway). They’re pretty tasty. But they’re not authentic. They’ve tricked you into accepting a substitute.
Curriculum companies have tricked you into accepting a substitute by pairing cheesy, expensive media they’ve produced with their outdated, expensive curricula.
Spanish Mike and ¿Qué hora es? have tricked you into accepting a substitute by telling you that because students laugh, they’ll learn something (in a video that is about students not learning anything). Señor Wooly is fun and comprehensible, but if that’s the only major vehicle of media exposure for your students, you’ve been sucked into believing this myth.
Authentic media is media produced by native speakers for native speakers of the language. By my definition, most translations (like Cajas de cartón, one of our Spanish 3 novels) are authentic, because they are produced by native speakers for native speakers.
I don’t mean that you have to do only 100% authentic media. My YouTube videos below are all inauthentic. Sure, students could use a laugh from Spanish Mike to take the edge off an upcoming assessment. But don’t fool yourself that they’re learning much. Flooding our students with media produced for language learners has produced students who cannot understand authentic audio or text. It’s crippling them.
“But they’re only in Spanish 1,” you say. For more on that, stay tuned for myths 8 and 9: Low-level learners can’t understand authentic materials and students have to understand everything they hear.
Play them pop music and news, weather reports and movie trailers. Show them advertisements and read short stories and biographies and news articles and interviews and Facebook fan pages. Coach them through using level-appropriate strategies and questions.
You can sing, dance, laugh, and eat Taco Bell all you want, but you’ll just continue to do what we’ve done for years: produce students who can [briefly] rap a verb conjugation but can’t order a real taco, hold the onion please.